Appropriations for Air Monitor Staffing

In the 86th legislative session, the Texas Commission on Environmental Policy (TCEQ) was appropriated more than $1.5 million to improve real-time air monitoring following Hurricane Harvey and several chemical fires in the Houston area.

Mobile units are needed to provide accurate air quality information to public health decision makers.

  • For example, during the ITC fire it was important to know the outdoor air concentration of benzene in communities to inform local official decision-making (e.g., evacuate/shelter in place, move monitors or employ/recommend mitigation measures) as well as provide the public with reliable information to make their own decisions about possible actions to take (e.g., evacuate; shelter in place).

TCEQ has come under scrutiny in the past due to limited air-monitoring capability that can provide communities and local governments real-time data, especially during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and more recently, after the Houston area experienced three chemical fires in as many weeks.

Specifically, TCEQ did not have the equipment to support the city and the county during ITC but now has this much needed capacity.

However, the mobile monitoring staff and the units were based in Austin.

A faster response to air emergencies is needed; mobilization from a city hours away is not efficient, especially given that TCEQ has multiple units.

The City of Houston worked closely with Rep. Armando Walle to insert language into the budget that specifically targeted resources to staff and locate these mobile monitors:

“Article VI. 31. Air Monitoring Staff. It is the intent of the Legislature that out of amounts appropriated above in Strategy A.1.1, Air Quality Assessment and Planning, $250,000 each fiscal year in General Revenue-Dedicated Clean Air Account No. 151 shall be used to fund 4.0 FTEs included in the number of Full-Time-Equivalents above to operate the agency’s mobile air monitoring units in coastal regions.”

With the money and now the staffing in place, local officials should have better information much more quickly to better inform the public of health risk associated with dangerous air quality.